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Bayshore settles down, advances to title game

Bayshore Christian needed an exterminator Wednesday morning in the Class B state basketball tournament.

The Faith Warriors had butterflies in their stomachs and a pesky Pompano Beach Highlands Christian team nipping at their heels for the entire game. Bayshore combined clutch free-throw shooting and good last-minute defense to chase Highlands out of the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center with a 50-48 victory.

Johnathan Johnson's two free throws with 44 seconds remaining broke a 48-48 tie, and then the Faith Warriors thwarted four Knights possessions to clinch the victory. Bayshore's Jonathan Fielder ended one threat by stealing the ball with 25 seconds remaining; Tavares "Tree" White pulled down his 13th rebound with 15 seconds left; and Johnson came up with a steal with 3.4 seconds showing on the clock.

But none of the three converted the front end of their one-and-one free throw opportunities and Highlands still had a shot at victory. That chance ended when Austin Cook's 30-foot buzzer shot clanged off the rim, sending the Knights home and propelling Bayshore into the Class B final against Malone.

"That was a real nail-biter," Bayshore coach Herman Valdes said. "I prayed when the ball was in the air."

The game may have never come down to a final shot, but the Faith Warriors appeared nervous playing in the relatively cavernous 13,000-seat arena.

"There's a lot of pressure on the kids playing in a big arena," Valdes said. "And playing at 9 a.m. I don't even talk straight until 10 a.m."

Johnson admitted the team's stomach remained unsettled throughout the game.

"We had butterflies, and they just never got out," Johnson said. "I think we still have them in there. We were out of synch because we only have two people who have been here before."

Johnson is one of the two Faith Warriors making his second consecutive appearance and it showed. He led all scores with 22 points and also had six rebounds and four steals.

Bayshore also got 10 points from Beau Hinley and a strong game from White, a 6-foot-9 center who had seven points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks.

"Tree has improved tremendously," Valdes said. "Not only physically, but his attitude toward the game. He's more positive about taking instruction."

The Faith Warriors needed all of those contributions to hold off Highlands, which beat Bayshore 58-51 at the Orangewood Christian Tournament in December.

With White, Johnson (6-6), Fielder (6-4) and Tobias Schuette (6-7), the Faith Warriors had a clear height advantage. They used that edge to produce a 34-25 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

But Highlands came back with the help of Justin O'Keefe to close the margin to 34-32. The Knights were hoping to tie the game or take the lead so they could go to a four-corner offense that helped win their first meeting with Bayshore.

"But they had the lead so we couldn't dictate the offense," Highlands coach Reg Cook said. "In the first game, we went to the four corners early. It was 19-19 in the second quarter and we went to the four corners."

The Knights finally went to the four corners after taking a 44-43 lead with 3:41 remaining, but White and Johnson scored down the stretch to keep the game close.

Highlands center Jason Topel scored underneath to make the score 48-47 with 1:03 remaining, and seconds later the Knights' Nathan Cook went to the line with a chance to give the Knights a three-point lead.

But Cook's first free throw went awry and White pulled down the rebound and was fouled. He tied the game with his first free throw and Johnson followed with his game-winning shots.